A Place Further than the Universe Review

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If money were no object, what distant land would you like to visit? Let me know in the comments section below. Perhaps a trip to the sunny Bahamas, where you can soak up the rays, would be nice? Maybe you would elect to go on an anime merchandise-spending spree in Japan instead? If so please buy me some body pillows as a souvenir! For high school student Shirase Kobuchizawa her destination of choice is Antarctica. She dreams of seeing the South Pole as her late mother vanished there during an arctic expedition. It’s either that or she just wants to hang out on a continent where cute penguins are bountiful.

OVERVIEW

A Place Further than the Universe is a thirteen-episode anime produced by Madhouse. To be clear, that’s the veteran animation studio… in case some of you think that the show was created inside a loony bin! Anyways, the series chronicles how Shirase teams up with three other ladies to make her chilly dream a reality. The first person that joins her cause is fellow Tatara West High School student Mari Tamaki. In the first episode viewers learn that Mari wants to go on adventure, as she hasn’t done anything memorable during her young life. She has a history of backing out of things. So much so that she doesn’t even have the courage to skip class.

Convenience store clerk Hinata Miyake is the next person to sign up for the Antarctica trek. She opts to tag along after overhearing Shirase and Mari discuss their journey during one of her shifts. For her, the voyage sounds like a fun distraction before she has to knuckle down with college entrance exams. The problem is that going to Antarctica isn’t something you can book at your local travel agent. Shirase is aware of a scientific expedition that is going to the region soon, but persuading the crew to take three untrained girls with them won’t be easy. Neither bribery nor awkward flirting can convince the researchers to give Shirase and company passage.

Thankfully for the determined trio the impasse is broken when they befriend teenage idol Yuzuki Shiraishi. It’s revealed that Yuzuki has been hired to go on the abovementioned expedition, where she can broadcast news reports relating to the trip. She isn’t keen on the assignment though, as she despises the cold. In the end she only agrees to accept the job under the condition that Shirase, Mari and Hinata accompany her. Like many actresses, Yuzuki is lonely. Constant travel and a packed itinerary have prevented her from making friends. She hopes that Shirase’s group will fill that void. Her craving for chums is so strong that in one episode she even begs the girls to sign a friendship contract with her!

VERDICT

My rating for A Place Further than the Universe is a four out of five. On the surface this appears to be another generic “cute girls doing cute things” series. In actuality the anime has more substance than that. The show is blessed with good production values and well written characters. I expect that many viewers will relate to the heroines’ struggles with bullies, shyness and loneliness. For the most part the tale is a lighthearted coming of age affair, packed with moments that will make you smile. On occasion it does however manage to tug at the heartstrings. Episode twelve in particular is guaranteed to make sensitive types blubber. Even on a frozen land there is no escaping those onion-cutting ninjas!

Review of Citrus

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Citrus is the long awaited sequel to Orange. Hehe. Just kidding! This twelve-episode anime, from the studio that gave us Rail Wars, is actually based on a Yuri manga. The story stars a trendy teenager, named Yuzu Aihara, who has transferred to an all girls academy after her mom remarried. Unfortunately for Yuzu, her first day at school doesn’t go well. Yuzu’s fashion sense earns her a tongue lashing, from those in charge, as it violates the high school’s strict dress code. To make matters worse Yuzu has her mobile confiscated by student council president Mei Aihara. Unlike best friend Harumi Taniguchi, Yuzu doesn’t possess the cleavage necessary to smuggle portable phones inside her bosom.

OVERVIEW

Eagle eyed readers may have spotted that Yuzu and Mei share an identical surname. In episode one it’s revealed that they are in fact stepsisters. Can the polar opposites cohabitate in their new home? Well, despite being at loggerheads in public they get surprisingly close. So much so that one evening, without warning, Mei plants a kiss on Yuzu’s lips. Despite her icy exterior, it appears that Mei is starving for affection. No surprise, given that her father neglects her in favour of foreign orphans. Deprived of wang at school is it a wonder that Mei turns out to be a lesbian? In hindsight Yuzu’s mother doesn’t help matters. She thinks that two hormone-fuelled teens sharing a double bed is a good idea!

Thus the stage is set for Mei and Yuzu’s hot/cold relationship. At times Mei is flat out rude to her sibling and on other occasions she forcefully locks tongues with Yuzu. I am amazed that Mei has romantic feelings for her new sis, given that Yuzu’s misbehaviour literally gives her grandfather a heart attack in one episode. Then again Mei is a very forgiving person. For example, she harbours no ill will towards Yuzu’s childhood friend Matsuri Mizusawa. During one story arc a jealous Matsuri tries to break up Yuzu and Mei. Her scheme involves using a compromising photo to blackmail Mei into a life of prostitution. Ah no biggie. Sex slavery is nothing major in Mei’s mind. Let bygones be bygones.

VERDICT

My rating for Citrus is a three out of five. It’s a decent series that should appeal to Yuri fans. Some viewers may however get frustrated with the script. Aside from the far-fetched melodrama mentioned above, the way that Citrus teases its audience can get grating. The writers routinely bait you with smut, but never deliver anything more than tame smooches and heavy breathing. Can’t romance anime find a happy medium? I don’t expect a hentai, where people bang after just five minutes of meeting each other. On the flip side however, is it really necessary to prolong things out for a dozen episodes? It takes months for Yuzu to confess her feelings and even then she needs the support of friends to do so.

It’s a shame that this cour didn’t cover the aftermath of Mei/Yuzu’s courtship. Given that love between stepsisters is taboo I am curious to see how their parents would react to the news. Would the pair try to conceal their status or be open about it? The relationship could also have some serious ramifications for Mei. I imagine the scandal may prompt her highly conservative school to remove Mei from the student council. Due to the anime’s slow pacing that question shall remain unanswered, unless you are willing to delve into the later chapters of the source material. That makes me feel sour… just like a lemon. Perhaps that’s where the title Citrus originates from?

Review of The Ancient Magus’ Bride

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The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a series that I recently finished watching, after spotting it in the “popular” section of Crunchyroll’s App. It’s based off an ongoing manga created by Kore Yamazaki, which began its run back in 2013. Crunchyroll crowned this show the Best Drama of 2017. The anime spans across twenty-four episodes and Funimation has already dubbed the vast majority of them. Studio Wit, who are best known for Rolling Girls, produced the cartoon. Much to my relief, unlike some other animated adaptations based on a comic that is still being published, I am happy to report that TAMB ends on a satisfactory note.

OVERVIEW

Finding love can’t be easy when you have a buffalo skull for a face. Like many ugly chaps, magic user Elias Ainsworth’s search for a spouse ended with him having to purchase a bride. Rather than picking the Russian variety, often advertised in the e-mails situated in my spam folder, Elias acquires a redheaded wife via an auction. Chise Hatori is the lucky girl in question. Apart from getting hitched, Chise has the honour of becoming Elias’ apprentice. She has a knack for spell casting, as she was born a Sleigh Beggy – a human who can generate bountiful quantities of mana. Her magical gifts come at a high price though.

Early on it’s revealed that Chise’s power is taking a toll on her lifespan. If a remedy cannot be found she is expected to perish within the next three years. Elias vows to save his missus, but doesn’t seem to be in a rush to do so. The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a leisurely paced slice of life affair, were the couple spend most of their days doing chores at their countryside abode. Occasionally they’ll take a trip down to London, for some shopping, or visit Iceland’s dragon sanctuary to fashion a wand. Character interactions are given more prominence than story in this series. Just like Haley Joel Osment, many of the folks Chise converses with are invisible to regular humans. Instead of poltergeists, Chise’s “sixth sense” allows her to see members of the Fae race.

VERDICT

My rating for The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a five out of five. The series is certainly deserving of the accolade Crunchyroll bestowed upon it. Fans of fantasy and the supernatural are sure to enjoy the world Yamazaki has crafted. It’s populated with a diverse cast of characters who are brought to life thanks to Studio Wit’s beautiful artwork. Mischievous fairies fly through the air, along with adorable woolly bugs (I really desire a plush toy of the latter.) In the village where Elias resides spirits are abundant. His housekeeper is a banshee and one of his neighbours unknowingly cohabitates with a half naked Succubus. Sigh. Why can’t my own home be haunted by a cute waifu?

I am certain this series will be a contender for my annual anime top five, as it is rich in emotional moments. Some scenes will make you laugh and others will invoke tears. Surprisingly the romance is subtle. Don’t expect too much mushiness, as Chise is recovering from a tragic childhood whilst Elias is a creature who struggles to comprehend human emotions. Slowly however a bond does form between the pair. The blossoming love exposes how Elias isn’t the majestic sorcerer he initially appears to be. When others court Chise’s attention he isn’t above immature bouts of jealousy. He wants Chise’s affection all for himself. Old buffalo head is quite the horny devil… in more ways than one.

Review of Occultic;Nine (Volume One)

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The suspect placement of that semicolon tells me that Occultic;Nine is created by the chap who is behind Steins;Gate. To be exact, this anime is based on the light novels written by Chiyomaru Shikura. Unlike the titles that make up the Science Adventure series, Occultic;Nine focuses on the paranormal. This adaptation spans across a dozen episodes, but due to licensor demands Manga Entertainment is releasing the show across two six-episode collections. Ouch! Slowly but surely we are regressing back to the bad old days, when box sets were a rarity and most anime DVDs would contain a mere three episodes.

OVERVIEW

Yūta Gamon is a teenage blogger who operates a website that specializes in the supernatural. Motivated by the promised riches of ad revenue, he spends his days linking to articles that talk about the occult. Ha, good luck with making cash online. My blog has been around for five years and to date has yet to generate a single penny! Anyways… Yūta gets embroiled in a murder mystery when he stumbles across the corpse of Professor Hashigami, an esteemed researcher who abandoned science in favour of studying unexplained phenomena. The only clues found at the crime scene are the word CODE (scribbled in blood) and a key lodged inside the professor’s jaw.

Despite not attracting much website traffic, Yūta’s blog has a knack for catching the attention of oddballs. Over the course of these six episodes Yūta ends up interacting with a streamer who is famous for fortune telling, a youngster who cosplays as a gumshoe and an author of Yaoi comics. The zaniest person in Yūta’s life is his sidekick Ryoka Narusawa. She is hyperactive and prone to zapping her chum with a Taser that resembles a ray gun. I suppose that she keeps an electric deterrent at hand to keep perverts at bay, as she has a ginormous pair of breasts. Even by anime standards, Ryoka’s knockers are unrealistically proportioned.

VERDICT

My rating for Occultic;Nine (Volume One) is a two out of five. At the show’s midway point I find myself completely disinterested in the story. That by itself wouldn’t be a deal breaker, if the characters were good at least. Steins;Gate for example managed to hold my attention, during its slow paced opener, because the antics of Okabe’s group were amusing to watch. None of Occultic;Nine’s cast makes an impression though. Characters like reporter Tōko Sumikaze and son of the deceased Sarai Hashigami lack personality. On the other end of the scale we have people who are annoyingly eccentric – the breast example in that category being Ryoka.

Perhaps the series can redeem itself in the next volume. I am sceptical though, as the script is juggling way too many subplots with just six episodes remaining. Apart from the murder mentioned earlier there is a mass suicide to investigate, a girl who is haunted by a ghost and a clandestine organization who appear to be engaged in nefarious activities. Will I stick around to find out how it all ends? The answer to that question is (Occultic) Nein. That’s the problem with splitting a series in twain Manga Entertainment. If the first half doesn’t impress don’t expect viewers to remain for the conclusion.

Review of My Hero Academia (Season 1)

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My Hero Academia is a bit like the reverse X-Men. Rather than being the minority, in this series, super powered mutants make up most of the population. Some folks use their special abilities to commit crime, whilst others opt instead to become costumed law enforcers. Teenage protagonist Izuku Midoriya (nicknamed Deku… because he is a scrub) has always dreamt of becoming a superhero. Unfortunately for him, he happens to be part of the twenty percent of people who never develop a superhuman skill. His hopes and dreams seem to be over, until one fateful day when he bumps into the nation’s mightiest hero.

OVERVIEW

One thing that I like about My Hero Academia is that Deku earns his power through courage and effort. He isn’t one of those anime dweebs who acquires an “I win button” by randomly stumbling upon a huge mech or cute kitty that gives away magical girl outfits. Deku inherits the abilities of a Superman clone (named All Might) through a tough apprenticeship that involves cleaning up a beach. Deku possesses far more willpower than myself. I would pass on super strength if ridding the seaside of litter were the cost. Plucking dirty syringes and used condoms from my local coastline isn’t worth the hassle.

All Might is looking for a worthy successor, who he can transfer his powers to, because injury has severely depleted his super hero work hours. On an average day, All Might can only fight crime for a period of 180 minutes. After that time limit elapses he morphs from The Rock into Pee-wee Herman. With his days numbered All Might accepts a mentorship role at an academy that tutors the next generation of Marvel rip-offs. Deku enrols at said U.A. High School after gaining a portion of All Might’s power, which he accomplishes by devouring a strand of the hero’s hair. I accidently ate a hair follicle once, which was served in the soup of a dodgy restaurant. Rather than boost my fortitude it gave me indigestion!

VERDICT

Like a motion picture from Marvel Studios, My Hero Academia suffers from villains that lack depth. The season finale however teases that the evildoers, who show up in the third arc, may get some development in future episodes. On the plus side Deku’s classmates make up for the weak antagonists. They are a colourful bunch, whose ranks include a gravity defying love interest, a hot-headed rival and a bespectacled speedster. Oh, and let’s not frog-et best girl Tsuyu Asui. She’s an amphibian who can leap high and literarily give out tongue-lashings with her elongated mouth organ.

I am awarding My Hero Academia (Season One) a four out of five. Unless the subpar DC movies have killed your passion for all things superhero, I can highly recommend this thirteen episode series. The action is good, there are some funny moments that will make you chortle and most important of all the characters have heart. Clearly I am not the only person who liked My Hero Academia. The series has since spawned a lengthier follow up and a third season is already in the works. That’s plenty of content to keep fans of capes and tights occupied, until the next instalment of One Punch Man comes out.

Review of Attack on Titan (Season Two)

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Carnivorous giants aren’t the only things that are huge. The gap in time between seasons one and two, of Attack on Titan, has been pretty big too. At long last however, the wait is finally over for British anime fans. Sony Pictures, who replace Manga Entertainment as the show’s UK distributor, has released a DVD set containing all twelve episodes. Things pretty much begin from where the last series left off. In case you don’t recall, season one’s finale revealed that the walls keeping danger at bay are in fact made up of Titans. It’s a secret that the clergy kept hidden from the military. Child molestation and Titans… priests sure do love their cover-ups.

OVERVIEW

Despite only containing a dozen episodes, a lot of entertainment is squeezed into these two discs. Not only do the Scouts have to battle against tall nudists, but this time round they also have to contend with King Kong. Um… I mean the Beast Titan. Unlike his mindless brethren, said ape possesses intellect and can even speak. He’s not the only threat though, as the colossal titan makes an appearance too (joined by his armoured buddy.) Eren, Mikasa and Armin have their hands full with that duo, so it falls upon the supporting cast to locate the wall breach where all these monstrosities are coming from. Giving the other characters screen time is nice, as I can only stand so many scenes of Eren wailing.

Without giving too much away, Reiner Braun and Bertolt Hoover play a “huge” role in this story arc. Pint sized blonde Krista Lenz and her faithful companion Ymir also feature prominently. Their backstories are revealed via flashbacks, which offer some clues on the origin of Titans. I was also pleased to see that Sasha “Potato Girl” Blouse got a moment to shine. Her gluttonous antics never fail to make me smile. On a more serious note she also got to show off her archery talents, in an episode where she protects an orphan from a Titan singlehandedly. Just when Hunger Games fatigue was starting to make me dislike babes with bows, Sasha shows why females who fire arrows are cool.

VERDICT

My rating for Attack on Titan (Season Two) is a five out of five. The series was well worth the wait. Wit Studio has managed to maintain the high benchmark set by the debut series four years ago. Back when season two aired I heard murmurs that the pacing was slow, but I couldn’t disagree more. Every episode had me captivated thanks to the surprising revelations and character development. Viewers who tune in just to watch gory deaths won’t be disappointed either. Many auxiliary warriors succumb to the titanic horde and ultimately meet their demise in a most gruesome manner. In their final moments, they must have felt like the Jelly Babies I devour.

Based on this impressive showing, I cannot wait for the summer season to arrive. No more pesky rainfall to worry about and Attack On Titan season three hits Japanese television. In the meantime fans can enjoy themselves with the upcoming video game, which is due out on all current gen systems imminently. I may also occupy myself by checking out the parody series Attack on Titan: Junior High. Let me know, in the comments section below, if that 2015 spin-off is any good. I very much doubt that Junior High can match the quality of season two. Just like Sasha Blouse, I would have to say that Attack on Titan season two is truly spud-tacular.

Review of Juni Taisen: Zodiac War

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Western calendars are so dull. I think it would be much cooler if we switched over to the Chinese system. We could then name the years after awesome animals! To coincide with the upcoming year of the dog, I have decided to review Juni Taisen: Zodiac War. Based on Nisio Isin’s novel, this twelve-episode anime is currently available to watch on Crunchyroll. I would best describe the series as a Fate like battle royale, where various warriors compete for the prize of any wish they desire. Rather than being based on historical figures, the cast of Juni Taisen are styled after the critters that make up the Chinese zodiac. Sadly we missed out on a sexy bunny girl. The rabbit fighter is a barely clothed male psychopath!

OVERVIEW

Every twelve years the Zodiac War is waged. This event allows the wealthy elite to wager on the outcome of a contest, which pits the planet’s twelve mightiest mercenaries against each other. Just like a Scottish swordfight, in the end there can be only one. Each competitor is forced to ingest a poisonous gem, at the start of the competition, so fleeing the brawl is not an option. To avoid a toxic demise one needs to exchange eleven gems for the antidote. Easier said than done though, because rivals are naturally unwilling to surrender the gem stored within their gut. You want to disembowel me for a Gem… that’s outrageous truly, truly, truly outrageous.

At first I thought the series would follow the pacifist Monkey and dozy Rat. The pair appeared to be the good guys, as they banded together to determine a way of ending the conflict with zero casualties. Juni Taisen however is an ensemble piece that shares the spotlight between all of its characters. Each episode focuses on a particular combatant. Viewers see the instalment’s protagonist scrap in the present, and glimpse into their origins courtesy of flashbacks. It’s an effective way of fleshing out the cast, without sacrificing action. The narrative however falls into an Akame Ga Kill cycle. Whenever someone is humanized, via backstory, you can practically see their death flag being hoisted up.

VERDICT

My rating for Juni Taisen: Zodiac War is a four out of five. If the series were just eleven episodes long it would be a contender for best anime of 2017. The cast are a diverse bunch and the action is top notch. Unlike the Monogatari franchise, which is heavy on dialogue, you cannot accuse this Nisio Isin adaptation of being slow paced. When the warriors clash it’s exciting to see who will triumph. Some characters outwit their opponents with subterfuge and others rely on brawn. The special techniques on display include Snake’s power of flight, Horse’s impenetrable defence and Boar’s Tommy Guns (which have infinite bullets.) I wonder if she stole said weapon from the Resident Evil 4 merchant.

The thing that prevents Juni Taisen from getting five stars, from yours truly, is its ending. Some people might consider the finale to be clever, as it illustrates how someone’s biggest strength can also be their biggest weakness. For me however it was anticlimactic. We witness such a high death toll just for things to play out like that? Given how serious and grisly the preceding episodes were, the story’s resolution comes across as a bit silly. My misgivings with the conclusion aside, I would still rate Juni Taisen as an excellent show that animation fans will enjoy. In hindsight, given that the series was produced during the year of the rooster, I should have expected that they would “cock” up the last episode.